The Miller's Tale

We get two tales for the price of one here. Nick, a postgraduate writing a dissertation on the sexual behaviour of women as expressed in literature from Chaucer onwards, is paralleled with Nicholas the student from perhaps the bawdiest of the Canterbury Tales, both men being more preoccupied with sexual conquest than with their studies. Nick lodges with Johnny, a Tory wanna-be politician and amiable if predictably bigoted buffoon, while seducing Alice, Johnny’s girlfriend as Nicholas lodges with Johan the carpenter similarly making a play for Alisoun, Johan’s wife. Aaron/Absolon, smitten unrequitedly with Alice/Alisoun is also in the mix, primarily as the agent of Nicholas’ comeuppance.

We enter as one female and three male singers set the atmosphere with some presumably mediaeval a capella. Beautifully done to this reviewer’s untrained ear, at least. Nick (Matt Bulmer), is soon on his mobile fending off previous sexual conquests and receiving congratulations from a mate. For no immediately obvious reason Nick has told Johnny (David Enright), his new landlord, that he is gay. This becomes a useful ploy in his seduction of Alice (Emily Jane Swanson), as what Nick has learnt through his literary studies, Wycherley’s The Country Wife and Henry James being invoked, is that women want most that which they cannot have. Nick fends off Aaron to protect Alice but also manages to find himself in bed with another casual conquest whose name he can never remember.

Writer Jonnie McAloon, who also plays Aaron/Absolon and is one of the singing quartet, stitches together the modern story with Chaucer’s original which latter is spoken in Middle English (helpfully precis’d on boards held by various members of the company). Chaucer himself helps with narration as Chris Wallworth sticks his head through a triptych of figures drawn on large boards like the Donald McGill-style photo-ops we see at British seaside resorts. A young and lively cast play the romps broadly in the mediaeval section but restrain themselves in the modern section with the slightly alarming exception of David Enright whose Tory twit’s red-faced apoplexy has to be seen. Staging is rudimentary with the cardboard triptych being the only imaginative element, if Crossroads-set wobbly, although what I imagine to represent a breakfast bar hides, if not a multitude of sins, at least a couple of improprieties. A vague whiff of misogyny hangs in the air, intended or not, who knows?

The direction is slightly loose, the lack of a cast list not allowing me to give a name to the culprit, which is much too harsh a word but will do, and the whole thing still feels under-rehearsed. In a small performance space Matt Bulmer, unfortunately, is barely audible at times especially when the musicians play and sing over a scene. Playing the double lead makes this more than something of a problem but perhaps the young ladies viewing find him a sex god nonetheless and the problem is risen above. And special mention must be made of Mr. Bulmer’s energetic cavortings with Eve St Marie Robato as Alisoun. Ah, youth and limber lissomeness! Beyond price.

The audience clearly enjoyed the show, several even being inspired to buy the new translation of Chaucer which was on sale after the show.

Not a great show but ample evidence of talent and fun.

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The Blurb

C SoCo. 15th - 25th August. 11:00 (1h).

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